JARED SIVILA WRITES – Driving for the average person is a menial and tedious task, but for the talented racers in the motorsport of Formula 1, driving is both a professional sport and an art form. The meticulously crafted Formula 1 Cars boast special engines, steering wheels, and car frames that maximize speed, control, and maneuverability, requiring the most skilled and efficient drivers to handle rigorous and dangerous racetracks around the world.
At the age of 22, Guanyu Zhou, hailing from Shanghai, China, is the first ever full-time Chinese Formula 1 driver. Driving in Formula 1 has been his ultimate goal, as he has trained and participated in competitive motorsport racing since he was eight years old. While some might celebrate his Asian-Pacific representation in a predominantly European motorsport, others think that Guanyu Zhou is undeserving.
Here’s why. Formula 1 consists of ten teams, each with a pair of professional drivers of varying backgrounds, skills, and renown. But there is a notoriously high barrier of entry, as families are required to invest early in young go-kart races and teenage professional driving academies, as well as millions of dollars in brand sponsorships and vehicles. For the most part, Formula 1 and motorsport racing are only open to wealthy families. As a result, fans often belittle certain participants as “pay drivers”-meaning that the driver is not paid by a team, but is instead put on the track to bring in prospective investments, money, and sponsorships-in exchange for a chance to race among the best drivers in the world, such as 7 time champion Lewis Hamilton and the youngest champion, Max Verstappen.
Guanyu Zhou’s life story is a case in point. As a wealthy child, his family moved to Europe in 2012 to propel Zhou’s career ahead in hopes of generating better exposure, landing new sponsorships, and racing fiercer competitors. His induction as a driver into Alfa Romeo, an Italian motor manufacturer and motor team in Formula 1, was met with skepticism that he was yet another talentless pay driver. On the official Instagram Formula 1 page, the post announcing Guanyu Zhou’s achievement as the first Chinese driver was met with comments such as: “MONEY TALKS,” “Money over talent needs to stop!,” and “he was probs only signed to boost money and viewers from China.”
Despite such a negative reception, Zhou headed into his first race of the season March 20th on the Bahrain circuit, brimming with energy and something to prove.
Now, consider that in such a competitive motorsport funded and engineered by multibillion dollar companies such as Honda, Mercedes, and Ferrari, every single mistake matters. The best lap times of each driver are seconds within one another, meaning that perfection and optimization on the racetrack are absolutely necessary. The car and driver must work together to succeed through fifty-seven stressful, dangerous laps at breakneck speeds.
Astoundingly, as a rookie, Guanyu Zhou remained steady and affirmed to himself, as well as the rest of the world, that he wasn’t just a rich hobbyist, but a true professional and skilled driver. In a stunning performance and his first ever Formula 1 appearance, he placed in the top ten racers of the week for the 2022 Bahrain Circuit, netting Alfa Romeo and himself prestige and crucial points for the championship in the new 2022 Formula 1 season.
Will Zhou be regarded differently now? Perhaps. In an interview after the race, Zhou stated that, “I always said that I deserve to be here and today I think I showed everything.” Most likely, skeptics will now become fans.